The European elections this year, too often merely a measure of the popularity of the British Government and Opposition, has this year produced some discussion of the EU or, at least what voters perceive the EU to be.
The rise of UKIP as a fourth party and the Clegg-Farage debate have raised the benefits and costs of Europe as an issue, although immigration and a dislike of established politicians is as much a reason for UKIP support as Europe.
This does not mean that the popularity of the three main parties will not be reflected in the result. The last European elections in 2009 were at the lowest point in the Brown premiership and so Labour will certainly gain more MEPS and the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will lose some.
The attention will be which party gets the higher national vote
Opinion polls of European voting intention have been more frequent this time but also more variable than polls in the last stages of a general election campaign usually are. Labour, the Conservatives and UKIP have all been in the lead in one poll or another, though the Conservatives only once.
The indication is that UKIP supporters are more determined to vote and so that the party will top the poll for the first time in a national election. The Lib Dems are around 8%, though they only got 13% last time, and the Greens anything from 5 to 12%, which sounds high, but they did get 8% last time.
The voting system, which is the De Hondt form of PR, except in Northern Ireland, means that the vote totals of the different parties are interconnected so that higher votes for the smaller parties will make it more difficult for the bigger parties to gain the last seats to be allocated in each region.
But there's more interesting things than who tops the polls
How far will people who vote UKIP in the European election remain loyal in next year’s general election?In 2009 when UKIP got 16 % of the European vote, about a quarter said they would also vote for them in the general election and this was pretty accurately reflected in the 2010 general election. This time, with UKIP in the high 20s, about half say they will still vote the same way into the general election, which will translate into a 10-15% vote.
Are the European elections affecting normal opinion polls as Mike Smithson of the Political Betting website suggested?The Labour Party has tended to put limited resources into European elections and even Tony Blair, at the height of his popularity, could not turn out Labour voters for these elections. Although there has been more of an effort this time, the core message has still been the cost of living crisis rather than the benefits of the EU. Maybe this has left the Conservatives and UKIP space to argue the Eurosceptic or anti-EU case and detach some voters from Labour. Labour will regret this next year if UKIP have any success in making the 2015 general election into a referendum on EU membership.
How well is Labour doing in key marginals?This will be interesting, local variations will give us some clues as to how well the party is doing in key marginals. Although the election is on a regional basis, the results are reported by smaller counting areas, pretty much on a local authority basis. We will be analysing these on the website after the results, which will be Sunday because they cannot be announced until after polls have close in all EU countries.